Steins;Gate: PS Vita, Review - Games Weekly

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Steins;Gate: PS Vita, Review

Can we still call visual novels niche? Virtue’s Last Reward and Danganronpa, both similarly arriving in Europe on Sony’s PS Vita, would suggest not, consistently sitting at the top of the PSN download best seller lists. This, however, is the daddy of visual novels. Originally released in 2009 in Japan, this unique time travelling thriller/comedy rewrote many of the rules concerning what to expect when you boot up a relatively interactionless game/story. The fulcrum of its success is main character Rintarou Okabe.

Okarin, as his contemporaries call him, is a self-styled mad scientist. He’s 18 and attends a university in Tokyo. He’s also just invented a time machine. Or has he? While attempting to build a microwave controlled remotely with his phone, Okabe manages to accidentally send an email one week into the past. Doing so, however, alters the timeline, with only him capable of remembering the changes. This heady conundrum is just the start, as things quickly escalate out of control, forcing Okabe to react.

While the entire story plays out from within his head, you can never really put your finger on just what is going through his mind. One minute he’s talking into his phone about conspiracy theories, the next he’s concerned with the well-being of his lab partners. He utters nonsensical phrases to himself, seemingly to put on a show of being barmy for others nearby, but after a while you start to wonder what this guy is really doing. Is he indeed bonkers? Or is there some kind of sense to his rambling? Of course, you then end up questioning your own judgement.
“after a While you start to Wonder What this guy is really doing? is he indeed Bonkers?”
Kurisu mass time
Okabe is the quintessential unreliable narrator, something that’s incredibly rare in a genre that tends to lean towards flaky mirror-image heroes, the kind of central characters left for the player to imbue with personality. Okabe is another person. A weird one. And it’s a hell of a ride being inside his head for just a few hours. Partly this is down to the fine extended cast list. each character, from Okabe’s best bud Daru, to the girl genius and physics jargon-busting Kurisu Makise, is fleshed out superbly.

Using Okabe’s phone you can send and receive emails and phone calls from these guys throughout the story, and the depth behind them all is easy to appreciate. There’s a cunning divide between what people are willing to talk about face-to-face and what they will reveal via the medium of email. Ditzy lab assistant, and perhaps the most intriguing character of the bunch, Mayuri Shiina, for example, will take the time to mail you with concerns about Daru’s weight. These people feel like they really are bouncing off of one another, which is amazing considering they’re static images given life with language alone.

Interaction is severely limited to texting and emailing from Okabe’s phone, and while the tale is wonderfully windy, many will simply not get over the fact that this feels more like a narrative to read than a game to play. The fact is, though, that this is a story which could not exist as it does in any other form. It uses its stark interactive elements to enforce its main event in ways that other mediums can’t accomplish. And isn’t that what we signed up for?


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